Posted: Aug. 24, 2003
By Celia Cohen
Grapevine Political Writer
Only U.S. Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. could get
away with literally dropping by the Sussex County Democratic
Jamboree, arriving Saturday evening in a helicopter in an entrance
fit for the presidential candidate he is not, a jarring contrast to
what is normally a sleepy summertime rite of sand dunes and sandals
at Cape Henlopen State Park.
Biden touched down with a spray of grit,
stirred up by the flapping whirly blades, and strode with aviator
sunglasses in place onto the pavilion where Democrats near the
landing site were brushing off a sand bath that appeared to leave
them more amused than anything. They were at the beach, after all,
and getting sand-blasted by Joe Biden was something to tell the
This arrival was not in the same league as
President George W. Bush in a flight suit roaring onto the deck of
an aircraft carrier, but it did wow the crowd. Biden got a rock-star
welcome with people applauding, cameras flashing and clusters of
Democrats surrounding him.
"I'd like to introduce someone who just likes
to drop in on a party," said Charlotte Anderson, the Democratic
chairwoman for the 38th Representative District, which drew the
assignment of staging the event this year. She called Biden "our
ambassador to the world."
Until two weeks ago, there was a sense that
Biden, a six-term senator who knows where his roots are, could
choose the annual jamboree to declare for the Democratic
presidential nomination, which would have expanded the field to 10
candidates wanting to run against Bush in 2004.
Then Biden released a statement on Aug. 11 to
say in low-key fashion that he would not enter the race. Heaven
knows how many tickets the Sussex Democrats could have sold
otherwise beyond the 400 or so they did at $10 each.
Instead, the jamboree became Biden's first
major public appearance since he announced his decision not to run,
so he used it to amplify why. "I feel like I owe you an
explanation," he said.
In addition, in an interview after he spoke,
Biden said he was leaning toward backing U.S. Sen. John F. Kerry,
the Massachusetts Democrat and decorated Vietnam War veteran, who is
scheduled to declare his candidacy on Sept. 2 for the nomination.
Biden also said his own decision to stay out of the race was final.
He also explained the helicopter. He told the
gathering that he came to the jamboree from a family vacation in New
Jersey and was due in Washington that evening to be ready for an
early-morning taping of "Meet the Press" on Sunday on NBC, so the
network provided the helicopter to eliminate the lengthy driving.
Actually, Biden had to talk a lot faster to
the Sussex County crowd to explain the New Jersey vacation -- he has
a brother with a beach house there, so it was free -- than the
While Biden did not say publicly how close he
had come to running, he really was ready to go. In the interview, he
said he had been poised to raise $2.5 million by Labor Day in seed
money and also had assembled the core of his campaign.
Naturally his sister, Valerie Biden Owens, who
has overseen every campaign since the first election for New Castle
County Council in 1970, would have been there again, and so would
Edward E. "Ted" Kaufman, once his chief aide and also a former
Democratic national committeeman.
Then there were the national players. They
included: Ron Klain, the ex-chief of staff for Vice President Albert
Gore Jr.; David Wilhelm, the national campaign manager for
Clinton-Gore in 1992; Tom Donilon, the deputy campaign manager for
the 1984 Mondale presidential campaign and a senior official in the
State Department for the Clinton administration; Larry Rasky, a
communications specialist who worked on Biden's 1988 presidential
campaign; and Mark Gitenstein, a Washington lawyer. Klain, Donilon
and Gitenstein are all alumni of the Senate Judiciary Committee,
which Biden chaired.
Still, he stayed out. "My instincts tell me
that the best way for me to work to enhance America's national
security and to fight for economic security for the middle class is
to remain in the United States Senate," he said in his statement.
Biden, now 60, has been regarded seriously as
a potential White House contender since 1984. That year he came
close to running -- there was an airplane waiting at Christmastime
1983 at the New Castle County Airport to take him to New Hampshire
to file for the first primary -- but he let it go by.
Four years later, he did enter the race, but
his campaign collapsed under a drumbeat of charges involving
plagiarism and resume padding and also a display of temper in New
Hampshire. Biden bailed, afraid that what he called "the essence of
Joe Biden" was being obscured and set out to redeem his reputation.
These days Biden, who chaired the Senate
Foreign Relations Committee when his party was in the majority, is
regarded as a leading Democrat on international affairs, a mainstay
of the political talk shows, and his stature and his interest nearly
propelled him into the race, along with his concern about the
While Biden said he has been trying "very,
very hard to work with this president," he believes the Bush
administration needs to build more support among other nations and
at home and to explain what is at stake.
"No foreign policy can be sustained without
the informed consent of the American people," Biden told the
"If we fail, the Middle East is gone. The
whole peace process, forget about it. At least two Arab governments
will fall in the next two years. There will be economic chaos. We've
got to do this right. We've got to get this done. . . .
"We have a chance to remake the world. We're
blowing it because of naked pride and this notion that we don't need
anybody else. We are the indispensable nation, but that does not
mean we should do it alone."
If policy nearly brought Biden into the race,
politics and personal considerations kept him out. He called his
chances "too much of a long shot" and said his wife Jill was against
"It would be like parachuting in," Biden said.
"Jill was not willing to do that now. She said, 'Why don't you wait
until next time and just march in? I'm tired of parachuting in.'"
Biden is out of the race but not necessarily
on the sidelines, as his continuing appearances on television
programs like "Meet the Press" show. Nor has he ruled out a future
Biden also is not stifling speculation that he
could be interested in serving as secretary of state if the
Democrats win the White House. "How do you say no to that? But I
don't anticipate that at all," he said.
Biden said he would have to decide whether he
could be more effective as a secretary of state or as a senator.
This time around, he already has decided he is more effective as a
senator than as a presidential candidate.
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